GRAHAM, Wash. – Friends, family, neighbors and police are all trying to come to grips with the deaths of two boys, killed in an explosion and fire that police say was intentionally set by their father.
Josh Powell and his sons, 7-year-old Charlie and 5-year-old Braden, died Sunday at Josh’s rental home in Graham. Josh was a person of interest in the 2009 disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox Powell, in Utah.
Grief counselors were expected at Carson Elementary School in Puyallup Monday, where Charlie was enrolled. About 100 people gathered there Sunday night, leaving cards, flowers, gifts and candles. Some were there to bring comfort to others. Some were seeking comfort for themselves.
“God, we know this is not an easy time, but we know you’re going to do something significant through this,” said one man.
Words of grief and condolence spread online.
"Furious, deeply saddened, and I'm sure my reactions will continue," said one commenter on KING5.com.
“I do not even know this family and I broke into tears when I heard the news this morning,” said another.
Josh had been in a custody battle with Susan’s parents for several months. Last Wednesday, a judge denied Josh’s request to have the children returned to him.
Police say a social worker brought the two boys for what was to be a supervised visit. They rushed toward the home, leaving the social worker behind. By the time she got to the door, Powell had let his sons in but locked her out.
The social worker called her supervisors to report that she could smell gas. Moments later, the home burst into flames, igniting an inferno that neighbors said rattled their houses.
Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor was very clear Sunday in his belief that Josh murdered his sons.
"Let’s not refer to this, please, in public as a tragedy. This was not a tragedy. This is a horrible murder of two little kids. Let's not dress it up. Let’s not sanitize it. Let's call it what it is, which is something deeply wrong,” said Pastor.
“Why couldn’t he just do that to himself?” said neighbor Deanna Carr. “Why would he have to take those babies with him?”
“I’m glad he died,” said neighbor Barry Carpenter with tears in his eyes.
A candlelight vigil for Susan, Charles and Braden will be held at 5:30 p.m. at McKinley Park, 907 Upper Park Way. The event is scheduled to last an hour.